Ebola took the world by storm less than a year ago. The news media was engaged in a constant Ebola news cycle, and this led to fear among different populations worldwide. Ebola is a virus that leads to symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea. You can’t get Ebola from the air, from food or through water. However, the disease can be spread through contact with blood and bodily fluids, contaminated objects such as needles, through fruit bats and possibly through semen.
No place in West Africa was hit harder with Ebola than Sierra Leone. This was due in part to lack of infrastructure and the unavailability of simple diagnostic equipment used to test for the virus. In addition, the war-torn country simply lacks the internal government and non-governmental organizational leadership to manage and eliminate the problem.
Sierra Leone Ebola Workers Face Damaged Reputation
You have heard that no good deed goes unpunished, and Ebola is an example of this principle at work. One of the major issues post-Ebola that Sierra Leone is dealing with is the stigma facing workers who helped treat the illness. These sacrificial lambs received no recognition or praise for the sacrifices they made to treat the illness, and many experience disgrace and dismissal.
“People still look at me like I am dirty, like I am sick,” said Magdalene, a nurse and Ebola survivor. “They still have that frightened — she is a survivor of Ebola — type of look on their faces when they talk to me. No one, not the government or minister, no one has come to me and said thank you, thank you for standing at the frontline of the battle, thank you for surviving, thank you for coming back to work. I just get looked at like I am a disease.”
Further, burial workers are rejected for the important work they have engaged in to help eliminate the threat of Ebola. These individuals are sometimes kicked out of their homes and shunned by their family and friends who fear contracting the disease. In short, these individuals who risked their own lives are now socially condemned. This rejection leads to depression for both the burial workers and healthcare professionals who treated the illness.
Is Sierra Leone Free of the Virus?
At the height of the Ebola crisis, Sierra Leone experienced 12 new cases a day compared to an average of 1.3 cases per day. Eventually case and death rates began to subside and survival rates in the country improved. Overall there were close to 20,000 cases of Ebola in Africa and 7,500 deaths, with Sierra Leone being one of the hardest-hit areas.
On November 7, Sierra Leone will be declared Ebola-free. However, many healthcare workers who provided care and burial workers will continue to feel the pain of Ebola. The human and monetary toll of the disease will plague Sierra Leone for years to come. And the fear that drives responses to these workers will grip communities within the country for the foreseeable future.
The threat of Ebola has subsided somewhat. Many in Africa, and Sierra Leone in particular, are working to clean up the problems that are still lingering due to the Ebola crisis. Healing both the physical and psychological wounds of the country will be essential to moving past this horrible crisis.